By ANDY GRAY
NILES "100 Lunches" is billed as a "gourmet comedy," and it does deliver a comedic feast.
Tribune Chronicle / Andy Gray
Christine Weatherman and Herb Everman are shown in a scene from “100 Lunches.”
Not everything was cooked to perfection on opening night, but there was more than enough for a satisfying theatrical meal.
The Jack Sharkey/Leo W. Sears script tells the story of a widowed playwright who lives with his college-aged daughter (Tori Bettura) and housekeeper (Jackie Shannon) on Long Island, N.Y. Charleton Reynolds (Herb Everman) is a successful writer but one critic, Charity Starr (Christine Hambach Weatherman) savages everything he does.
The morning after his latest opening and her latest hatchet job, Charity shows up at Charleton's door and asks him to help her write a play (Everman's reaction to the request is priceless).
When You Go
"100 Lunches" will be staged at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday through May 17 and 3 p.m. May 18 at Trumbull New Theatre, 5883 Youngstown-Warren Road, Niles. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and can be reserved by calling the TNT box office between 7 and 9 p.m. weekdays.
Charleton accepts the offer as long as they work over lunch and she picks up the tab. He doesn't really plan to help her; he's only interested in bleeding her financially. But Charity's motives might not be completely honest either.
The lunches range from New York's finest to the Big Apple's scariest, and in spite of surly waiters (all played by Phil Cuthbertson) and Charleton's amorous neighbor (Crystal Niemi), Charleton and Charity start to bond over their meals.
Everman drives the comedy in "100 Lunches." He skillfully delivers Charleton's one-liners but his real strength is the way he reacts to the lunacy around him. He makes everyone else seem funnier.
The other standout is Bettura as Charleton's daughter. The part was written for a 10-year-old boy, but director Lisa J. Bennett changed the character to a college-aged female after not getting any boys for the audition. She brought a youthful, sarcastic tone to the character that worked well in the context of the play. And it's an impressive transformation for those who saw TNT's "Arsenic and Old Lace," where she played Everman's fiancee, not his child.
Weatherman and Everman play well off of each other in the lunch scenes, but some of Weatherman's line readings were flat on opening night, and there seemed to be untapped comedic potential in the character. It didn't help that the weakest part of the script is the romance between Charleton and Charity. Their feelings are announced late in the second half rather than being something the audience can watch develop over the course of the play.
Cuthbertson may have the most demanding role of the show, playing about seven waiters, who all are related but have very different personalities. The shifts in accent and demeanor were impressive; however, Cuthbertson occasionally got tongue-tied in delivering his lines in the different accents and stumbled over some of the punchlines, which muted their effect.
Niemi is appropriately flighty as the neighbor, and TNT newcomer Jackie Shannon gets laughs with the cliched role of the occasionally sassy housekeeper.
"100 Lunches" shifts back and forth between Charleton's home and the various restaurants. Bennett tweaked the set TNT used for "Send Me No Flowers" and makes it work for the technically demanding show, and she and her stage crew makes the changes go as smoothly as possible in a theater space that isn't optimal for such transitions.